There are a lot of anniversaries and milestones coming up for hockey fans in the fall of 2022. This September marks the 50th Anniversary of the Canada/USSR Summit Series, where Toronto Maple Leafs forward Paul Henderson scored the winning goal for Team Canada in Games 6 and 7 in Moscow. Then he topped it off by scoring the winning goal in Game 8 with just 34 seconds left to give Canada the series victory. It was a goal that sent Canadians from coast to coast into a frenzied celebration never seen before or since.
There’s another important hockey milestone coming up in October 2022, as the Edmonton Oilers will celebrate their 50th year as a professional hockey franchise. They were part of the new upstart World Hockey Association (WHA) in 1972-73 and were known as the Alberta Oilers as they played games in both the Calgary Corral and the Edmonton Gardens. The brainchild of visionary hockey mind and western Canadian hockey icon Bill Hunter, they played on the very first night in WHA history on Oct. 11, 1972, when they defeated the Ottawa Nationals 7-4. No one could’ve imagined what was to come for the Oilers franchise after that first game and season.
Much has been written and talked about in terms of the history of the Oilers. From the acquisition of a skinny kid from Brantford Ontario named Wayne Gretzky in 1978 to five Stanley Cup championships in the late 1980s and early 1990s to the drafting of another phenom from Ontario named Connor McDavid, they have known their share of the highest highs and rock bottom lows.
Here’s a top-ten list of memorable moments that have shaped the Oilers franchise over the past 50 years–counting down from the most memorable to what I believe is the most important moment in Oilers history:
10. Glen Sather Takes Over as Coach of the Oilers
In 1976, the Oilers of the WHA acquired journeyman forward Glen Sather from the Minnesota North Stars, and in the 1977-78 season, they named him player/coach. He became the visionary leader of the team and was instrumental in acquiring Gretzky from the Indianapolis Racers of the WHA in 1978. During his time as head coach and then general manager (GM), the Oilers won five Stanley Cup championships.
9. The Edmonton Investors Group (EIG) Save the Franchise
On March 13, 1998, the Edmonton Investors Group (EIG), led by local Edmonton businessman Cal Nichols and 37 other entrepreneurs, matched Texas millionaire Les Alexander’s offer to buy the team from former owner Peter Pocklington.
Related: Oilers History: The Day Edmonton Saved the Franchise
The move, spearheaded by Nichols, a former all-star in his playing days in the Sask/Alta Senior Hockey League, helped keep the Oilers in Edmonton.
8. Chris Pronger Leads Oilers to Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final
When the Oilers acquired NHL Hall of Fame defenceman Chris Pronger from the St. Louis Blues on Aug. 3, 2005, it signaled a new era for the team. The NHL had just negotiated a new collective bargaining agreement with the NHLPA in 2005, and small market teams such as the Oilers could now compete with rich teams like the New York Rangers and Detroit Red Wings.
Then-Oilers GM Kevin Lowe masterfully built a team around Pronger that included Canadian Olympian Michael Peca, Dwayne “Rolie the Goalie” Roloson and Sergei Samsonov who bulldozed their way to Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final, where they lost 3-1 to the Carolina Hurricanes. During the 2006 offseason, Pronger requested a trade and was shipped off to the Anaheim Ducks. Enough said, right Oilers fans?
7. Curtis Joseph Robs Joe Nieuwendyk in Game 7 Against the Dallas Stars
It was David vs. Goliath in Game 7 of the 1997 NHL Western Conference Quarter-Finals as the underdog Oilers defeated the heavily favoured Dallas Stars 4-3 in overtime. Oilers fans may not remember the date of April 29, 1997, as much as the incredible save that Oilers goaltender Curtis Joseph made on Stars All-Star forward Joe Nieuwendyk. It was one of the greatest in NHL playoff history let alone Oilers history and was followed up by a breakaway goal by speedster Todd Marchant on former Oilers goalie Andy Moog. Marchant had a history of having numerous unsuccessful breakaways, but not this time, as the Oilers advanced to the 1997 NHL Western Conference Semifinals after previously missing the playoffs four years in a row from 1993-1996.
6. Oilers Draft Connor McDavid
Many Oilers fans can remember great moments in franchise history, but this moment is one where you actually can remember where you were that day. April 18, 2015, was the day the Oilers won the 2015 NHL Draft Lottery and earned the right to select Erie Otters superstar Connor McDavid first overall.
I was waiting in line to see a movie in Sherwood Park, Alberta and though I forget the movie, I’ll never forget how good I felt as an Oilers fan that day. We all knew back then just how great this McDavid guy would turn out to be.
5. Wayne Gretzky Scores 50 Goals in 39 Games
On Dec. 30, 1981, Oilers captain Gretzky shattered the record for the fastest 50 goals in NHL history when he scored five times against the Philadelphia Flyers in a 7-5 Oilers victory. Gretzky’s 50 goals in 39 games is most likely a record that will never be broken, along with his 92 goals during the 1981-82 season, a record for most goals in a season that still stands today.
4. Oilers Win 4 Stanley Cups Between 1984 and 1988
The Oilers team during this era is considered one of the best in NHL history. Led by Gretzky, Mark Messier, Grant Fuhr, Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson, Paul Coffey, Kevin Lowe and many more, the Oilers were an absolute powerhouse. The Calgary Flames were an admirable opponent at the time, and any visit to the province of Alberta during those years was considered Death Valley to most NHL teams. The Oilers ended up defeating the New York Islanders, Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins to capture four Cups during their heyday in the 1980s.
3. Mark Messier Leads Oilers to 1990 Stanley Cup Victory
After Gretzky was traded to the Los Angeles Kings on Aug. 8, 1988, the Oilers were supposedly finished in terms of winning Stanley Cups. Mark Messier obviously didn’t get the memo.
The Moose, along with young goaltender Bill Ranford and a kid line made up of Martin Gelinas, Adam Graves and Joe Murphy came from behind after being down 3-2 against the Winnipeg Jets in the Smythe Division Semi-Finals to beat the Jets 4-3. The Oilers never looked back and went on to win their only Cup without the greatest player in the game.
2. Oilers Acquire Wayne Gretzky From Indianapolis Racers
When Racers owner Nelson Skelbania “moved” 17-year-old Gretzky to the Oilers on Nov. 2, 1978, it marked a turning point for the team and the City of Edmonton. Even though he was young enough to still be playing junior, he excelled right out of the gate and led the WHA Oilers to their only WHA Finals appearance in 1979 against the Jets.
1. Oilers Beat the New York Islanders 1-0 on May 10, 1984
Do you want to talk about a turning point in a franchise’s history? This is it. Without this victory, there may not have been a dynasty in the Alberta capital. When grinder Kevin McLelland scored the only goal of the first game of the 1984 Stanley Cup Final at the 1:55 mark of the first period, the Oilers realized they could beat their nemesis, the New York Islanders – winners of the previous four Stanley Cup championships in a row at that point. They rode the incredible goaltending of Grant Fuhr to a 1-0 shutout that night, and thus changed the fortunes of the Oilers franchise and most likely the City of Edmonton forever.
There are other many big moments in the Oilers’ 50-year history worthy of being in the top ten, and still more to come, as McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are capable of creating magic that could land this era of the Oilers on the list at some point.
What are your top 10 moments in Oilers’ history? Please let us know in the comment section below.